Hypercasual mobile game trends to watch in 2021
January 11, 2021
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Hypercasual is one of the most talked-about genres in mobile gaming. It took off at an unprecedented rate with Flappy Bird going viral in 2014, and it has remained a leading category in terms of downloads ever since.

Despite their easy-to-play nature and quick development-turnaround time, hypercasual games face a number of challenges. Competition continues to increase as the fight for player attention heats up. And for a genre which so heavily relies on ads, the impending IDFA changes will really shake up the market. And this is why the hypercasual genre is constantly evolving — to stay enticing, current and competitive. Based on conversation with Supersonic Studio experts Tomer Geller (its lead game designer) and Niv Touboul (its head of in-house games), here are some trends that we predict will happen in 2021:

The hypercasualization of everything

There is a growing realization that anything and everything can adapt to the hypercasual genre, even if it doesn’t seem like an obvious fit at first glance. Take for example the new genre of minigames (new to mobile but common in console) — which are multiple small actions that alone do not fit the criteria for a successful hypercasual game, but collectively they do. Choice-based games like Save the Girl, Chat Master, and Let’s be Cops 3D are another example of a sub-genre that has been adapted to the hypercasual experience as we can see in games like Save the Girl and Let’s be Cops. This hypercasualization trend is likely to continue, and we’ll continue to see the growth of spin-offs as more concepts hypercasualize themselves.

Games adopt richer mechanics

On the flip side, we’ve already begun to see the emergence of hybrid-casual games, and we predict that this is only the beginning. These are experiences that imitate the gameplay and appeal of hypercasual games but with heavier content. For example, it could mean taking elements from midcore or strategy games and merging them with hypercasual, to create a new subgenre. We can see this happening in Ancient Battle, which combines strategy mechanics and those from other genres with its core hypercasual mechanics.

This evolution is an interesting one. Hypercasual games were born as an easy-to-play yet skill-based genre, which over time has become somewhat more forgiving and even easier to play, as they come closer in competition with the action of scrolling through a social media news feed. 2021 will take a portion of the genre back to its roots and we’ll see the return to more skill-based games that require a greater level of thought and attention. This is a significant inflection point for the genre.

IP-based games get in on hypercasual

In 2020, only 5% of hypercasual games were backed by third-party IPs, but several acquisitions over the past two years are perhaps a sign of changes ahead. Zynga’s acquisition of Rollic and My.Games minority stake investment in Mambo Games are marrying up publishers who are strong in IP with hyper-casual game studios. Tallying up with the above trend of hypercasualisation, we’ll start seeing more recognizable names join the hypercasual club.

IPs will enter the hypercasual game market, whether it’s their first foray into gaming or not. For existing IP games, introducing a more simple gameplay option in a hypercasual format could help them widen the appeal of their game (and hence IP) to a much larger audience. For other brands, it could help them break into the gaming market, as we have seen many others do in the adventure (think Harry Potter and Family Guy) and puzzle (think Frozen) genres. Whether utilized by those new to the gaming scene or not, the large potential audience of hypercasual games and their easy-to-play format, can be utilized by IP-based brands to help increase awareness, franchise loyalty and potentially also sales.

IDFA shakes up the market

Apple’s IDFA changes will impact the hypercasual industry, which is heavily dependent on ad monetization – the big question that remains is “how.” Ultimately, it will come down to exactly how SKAdNetwork 2.0 will function and how mobile app attribution will adapt to it — both of which are still relatively unknown. This will require publishers and ad networks to adjust their technology, tools and strategy to the new reality and discover how to maximize UA and monetization under the new guidelines, and the outcome of this will be critical for the hypercasual industry.

Given Apple’s stance on IDFV, some industry experts predict that hypercasual games will enjoy an edge because of their large existing user base, allowing them to cross promote their games within a portfolio. Either way, this change is a watershed moment for user privacy which will force every industry player to rethink how they grow and monetize their businesses.

It’s all about the visuals

More alternative game design themes will make waves within hypercasual games. For a genre that’s so dependent on creatives (since ultimately the ad creative is a mini-version of the game), it makes sense that games which lead with interesting creatives, will quickly get an edge. It’s about unusual, unexpected and slightly awkward games that pique curiosity, in both a negative and positive way. Think giving vegetables a C-section or growing a baby in the womb. These alternative themes allow for such visually stimulating creatives, that they generate a noticeable emotion in the could-be-player who is intrigued to find out more.

And it’s not just the visuals which will change, but also how they’re created. As technology gets more powerful, stock assets get more complex and players’ expectations of a more realistic environment increases, so the current simple, cartoony style of hypercasual games will get a revamp, with a more complex and realistic feel. For example, the stickmen from the Unity store are a popular and highly utilized asset, however, more and more we’re seeing them replaced by more realistic characters that mimic the features and movement of a real person.

An inspiration for other categories and a marketing tool for brands, these once-upon-a-time “simple” games are continuing to not only prove their staying power but also their strength and influence in the wider mobile gaming market.

Nadav Ashkenazy is the GM of Supersonic Studios, IronSource’s mobile game publishing arm. Nadav oversees all aspects of Supersonic, including onboarding developer partnerships, game development, monetization and user acquisition, data analysis, and technical support.

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